A Look Back at 2017

Been a year worth many Smiles! Smile Gas in Madison Heights, VA

I have to admit that my life is rich and joyful. This past year has been one very interesting and challenging year. There have been more ups and downs then a roller coaster ride in Kings Island.  But I made it through the year with a smile on my face!!

The year started off on a high note as we were in Maryland finishing up a Christmas vacation and I saw a beautiful sunrise. We had some nice travel and then I started a new contract job for PrecisionHawk, a company that manufactures drone software. I was very excited, though it was a contractor position, I was able to work from home which made it very nice. My contract was supposed to be for one year but later on in the year the company transitioned management and many decisions were made, including one to eliminate all positions outside of North Carolina, which included me. That was totally unexpected, but, those kinds of things happen in this economy nowadays so one has to just roll with the punches.

Sunrise as seen from Ocean City, MD on New Year’s Day 2017…that’s the Atlantic Ocean.

Visiting PrecisionHawk HQ in NC in early January 2017

In February my daughter Marissa and I made a trip to Houston to drop off a trailer to my son Seth and his wife Holly.  We took Missy’s kids and had some fun stops along the way there (in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana) and back (in Texas, Arkansas and Missouri).  Road trips are always a blast, but are even more fun with Grandikidz!

Visiting Alabama with Landen, Lyla and Joselyn

The giant Saturn Rocket on display at the Welcome Center near Huntsville, AL

Lunch at Mammy’s Cupboard in Natchez, MS (see Roadside America Post abt Mammy’s Cupboard)

Stopover in Louisiana

Holding a baby gator at the Gator Chateau in Jennings, LA

They do get much bigger!!

Being Chunky in Chunky, MS

Having Fun with the Grandkidz at the Magnolia Market Silos in Waco, TX

Time in Houston was fun as well.  Found a great quirky burger joint that we all went to.  Pretty unique…

The Shack Burger Resort in Cypress, TX – a load of fun!!

After visiting the family we returned home, first with a stopover in Uncertain, Texas to see the swamps.  Though uncertain about things, we met Aaron Applebaum (Mystique Tours) who took us on a boat tour through the swamp.  Didn’t see gators, but this February morning was a nice ride.  The kids even go to drive the boats.

Uncertain, Texas

Joselyn and Grampz on the boat somewhere in the swamp of Caddo Lake, near Uncertain

Aaron Applebaum let’s Landen drive the boat in the swamp

from the swamps of Texas/Louisiana, we headed north through central Arkansas and Missouri — a route that brought both planned and unplanned adventures.  In the middle of Arkansas, we came across a massive flock of migrating Snow Geese as we crested a hill.  What an amazing sight!!  We went through Missouri and then had a super time in Metropolis, IL.

Thousands of snow geese take to flight in central Arkansas

Hitting Missouri with the grandkidz

Having a super time with Superman in Metropolis

Later in the month my wife and daughter had a trip to Indianapolis to attend Time Out For Women. Wanting a road trip, I went along for the weekend ride.  We went out of our way to visit Story, IN and the Story Inn for lunch.  While they were at their conference, I visited some places in Indy.  Always seeking adventure!

Story, Indiana

The Historic Story Inn offered some amazing food!

Nashville, Indiana

Welcome to Indianapolis!

Hanging with Anthony Snape after his fabulous show at the Lexington Opera House.

We didn’t travel in March at all, but I was thrilled to attend an amazing concert in Lexington, where I got to meet up with my old Australian musician pal Anthony Snape, who performed with the amazing Tommy Emmanuel.  I took Marissa and she had a blast!

Later in the year I also got to attend a couple of other concerts, which I’ll note below.

 

Visiting Shenandoah National Park on Easter 2017

Julianne’s sister had a time share reservation in Virginia and so they set up a three night stay over Easter Weekend. As always, I wanted to drive.  I would take Julianne up there and then drive back on Easter morning.  I had a spectacular Easter morning visiting Shenandoah National Park and celebrating my own Easter Sunrise Service.  Had a spectacular moon (and even got a photo of Venus!!!) and took a really nice shot of a deer.

Easter Moon (taken with a Nikon D5200 and Tamron 200mm-600mm lens)

Caught this deer at sunrise off the side of the road. It stayed long enough for a quick shot.

Easter sunrise from atop the Shenandoah Mountains

By July I was out of “full time“ work and was striving to make it on the two or three small contracts that I had for a number of years with Vype magazine. That made things very difficult.

A composite of me with all of my grandchildren in 2012 and then again, same pose in 2017 (minus the youngest)

Hanging with the Grandkidz at the Wigwam Village in Cave City, KY. Yes, we stayed there!

That said, it was probably fortuitous that my position was eliminated because in July one of the highlights of the year came along and that was being able to be with my entire family for the first time in five years. All of my children and all my grandchildren were gathered together here in Kentucky and we had in some cases up to two weeks of reunion with family members.

With the family reunion came some additional fun as we traveled with parts of the family to a number of diverse areas including Mammoth Cave National Park, New York to see the Hill Cumorah Pageant and along the way a couple of beautiful state parks with amazing waterfalls, then on to Cleveland where we had another huge family gathering with my Laurienzo family and most of my family that was with us on the trip.

With Grandkidz at Mammoth Cave NP

Mammoth Cave

At the amazing waterfall in Letchworth State Park in New York

One of dozens of waterfalls in the gorge at Watkins Glen State Park in New York

With my wife’s sister Laura and her husband Richard in the depths of the gorge at Watkin’s Glen

Got to see my good friend Corey White, who was performing in the Hill Cumorah Pageant.

Visiting King’s Island as a family – what fun!

Making a splash with my granddaughter Autumn

All of us enjoyed the view from atop Mt. Washington in Pittsburgh, PA

Cleveland!

With my sisters Nicole and Tina and brother Joe in Cleveland

My sister Sherry came up from Texas with her husband Brian and daughter Savannah to join us for a couple of days.  Had a thrill going with them to see the band Chicago perform in Cincinnati.  I hadn’t seen them since 1975!!

Traveling to Cincinnati with Sherry and Brian to go see Chicago

Chicago Live in 2017!

One of the many roller coasters at King’s Island

The two weeks in July was an amazing time and one which most of us will not forget too soon.  We even got some family pics, including this goofy one at Waveland State Historic Park near Lexington.  I was contracted by the park to do their official photography for websites and other materials.  It has been fun to do this throughout the year.

The whole family in prime form – July 2017!

The year also brought sadness for me as one of my very good friends, Joseph Higginbotham, got ill and eventually passed away. Joseph was a good man and he had no family, very few friends and really nobody there for him, so I made numerous trips to West Virginia while he was in intensive care, a nursing home and ultimately in hospice. I was with Joseph at his bedside when he passed away.

Remembering my good friend Joseph Higginbotham, who passed away in June 2017

I also had a dear sweet cousin pass away. Donna Shoemaker, a cousin of mine through my Laurienzo family, passed away this year. She was one of the sweetest and kindest souls I’d ever met. Knowing her added luster to my life!

With my cousin Donna in 2016.

Visiting with Charles Snow

During 2017 I was also able to visit in North Carolina with one of my very close friends from college days who had also worked with me at Nava-Hopi Tours in Flagstaff, AZ. Charles Snow has been a friend of mine for well over 36 years, and I was thrilled to visit with him in North Carolina. He too has had some major illnesses and it breaks my heart. My thoughts and prayers go out for him daily as he suffers and struggles from a rare disease and from congestive heart failure. This kind of thing brings sadness to my heart. Besides him, I have a few other friends who are struggling.

Happy Happy Happy

But, where there are downs, there are also upsides. And the year brought many wonderful and exciting things for me, some of which were lifetime thrills!

When you speak of the highlights of your life, it often centers around children being born, getting married or some big events like that. I have had many of those in my life, but this year I had three big “Once in a lifetime” type of rare events happen.

The first of these occurred in January when I had heard about the possibility of seeing the migration of sandhill cranes as they come through Kentucky. In mid-January ventured south to Barren River Lake to check it out during their sandhill crane event. I was excited as I saw 200 or 300 Sandhill Cranes far out in a field. I couldn’t ever get very close.

Got to be amazed by Sandhill Cranes in January…1000s of them.

But, I had also heard that there might be some near Cecilia, Kentucky, which is near Elizabethtown. So that morning I drove up I-65 to Cecilia and drove around a little bit. Soon I came across a flock of these tall, beautiful sandhill cranes. To my astonishment, I soon saw that there were thousands of them! They surrounded me in every direction. The eerie sound they make echoed in my ears while I saw the beautiful grace of these birds taking off and landing in massive numbers while many others stayed on the ground feeding on the leftover corn in the farmland that they were in.

Love the Sandhill Cranes!

I hung around for nearly 5 hours watching this beautiful event, all the way until sunset. It will always remain a highlight of my life, though I plan to visit and revisit again in future years, including this upcoming January (2018).  Ironically, in December of this year we went to Barren River Lake State Resort Park and stayed three nights.  I once again saw hundreds of this birds!

Sandhill Cranes in December 2017 near Barren River Lake State Resort Park

Viewing the Solar Eclipse near Hopkinsville, KY

Another event happened, also in Kentucky. The middle of the year there was the famed great solar eclipse of 2017. It was a full eclipse which is very rare. In my 61 years of life, I had never seen one. So I took the day off and I booked it down to Hopkinsville, Kentucky where it was supposedly the epicenter and perhaps the best place in the world for viewing the eclipse. Thousands and thousands of people gathered from all around the world to witness this natural event. I was one of them.

Many cars had things on them like this one to go see the Total Eclipse

Thousands were in chairs to see the eclipse

This kid was focused!

For a couple of hours I drove around witnessing the “circus“ atmosphere in Hopkinsville. People were dressed in eclipse T-shirts and many had their Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon“ T-shirts on. Of course, everyone had their solar sunglasses!

As the event got near, I sought to find a place away from many people. I eventually found a small church that had parking for $10 and I paid them and I went and parked and sat and watched the event with amazement. I tried desperately to find a good filter for my camera in the previous weeks, but was not able to, so I had to wait until the actual event occurred to get some photos, which are shown below. Talk about a wonderful highlight!

Total Eclipse as seen through my Nikon

I got the Diamond!!

The last shot with my camera before the sun came out. Didn’t have a filter.

The third big exciting event of my life happened just a few weeks ago as I published my first book. I plan on publishing another 11 in the series, but my first book, titled “Less Beaten Paths of America: Unique Town Names,” is a book that took thousands of miles of travel and a lot of visits to out of the way places. I had written many blog posts and taken hundreds of photographs to finally create enough content for this book and those that will follow.

Published my First Book in December. Available on Amazon…sold over 100 copies and over 150 Kindle downloads in first month

Another highlight and good note for me for the year was being hired as a full-time employee by the website ComicBook.com in October. This was my first hired position in over five years and I have to say that I was filled with joy and gratitude for the opportunity. I am currently managing their database, which is massive and includes movies, television shows, anime and many other things. It’s a great opportunity for me and it’s a blast to work with superheroes all day!

My Happy Place

My Happy Place

This year I spent many hours visiting the nearby Jacobson Lake in Lexington, taking photographs of sunrises, sunsets, nature scenes and lots of birds. It has become my “happy place” where I can seek solace and enjoy the wonderful variety of God’s creations.

I got my first good photographs of eagles in 2017. There are two bald eagles that are hanging around the lake and I was able to photograph them and experience that wonder.

Heron with breakfast

One of my many bald eagle shots

Not only did I get to see eagles, some of them close up as the photo below shows, but I also was able to witness a massive flock of Snow Geese in Arkansas as I traveled with my grandchildren, I was able to watch Osprey dive in the water and grab fish, I watched with amazement as a Baltimore oriole wove its nest in a sycamore tree over a number of days. This year became my bird watching year and it was wonderful.

 

Took this Bald Eagle shot near Cave Run Lake

My happy duckling

I am amazed at nature and the variety that it offers. It’s been wondrous to watch cormorants swimming in groups in the lake as they “herd“ fish into a corner and then feed voraciously! It has been interesting to see the unusual and curious looking merganser ducks swim in flocks together. It is always peaceful to watch the graceful flight of a great blue heron or a great white egret. Both of which I’ve been able to experience this year. (I’ll be doing a subsequent post on my best bird shots of 2017 — so watch for it.)

A Red-winged blackbird

This goldfinch apparently had a bad day

Great White Egret in Flight

An amazing bird – the Osprey

Then there are others….

Flying squirrel

Blue Heron with Breakfast

Despite the negative political climate that has evolved in America, the terrible hurricanes and earthquakes and fires that are devastated much of America, I have been very blessed to be in a lovely place and not be directly impacted by any of these things. I have been able to enjoy life to its fullest this year. I’ve been able to see God’s creations. Through my photography I have made many new friends. I am fortunate to get to see many of them at the lake. I’ve been able to have joy with my 10 grandchildren, my five children and my lovely wife throughout the year.

Some of my photographer friends….thanks to them for making 2017 a good year

Hanging with Eddie Flinchum at the lake

Jerome Keeler

Charles Gough

Hallie Faurest

The gang at an eagle shoot meetup at Taylorsville Lake

Finally, we finished off the year on a high note.  Earlier in the year I had been contracted to do the photography for Waveland State Historic Park in Lexington. Through them we coordinated an agreement with the Barren River Lake State Resort Park. We spent three days in a unit down there (read Staycation) between Christmas and New Years.  Saw some splendid sunrises and sunsets and got to revisit the Sandhill Cranes. There were thousands of them all over the sky.

Winter evening sky at Barren River Lake

Sandhill Cranes fly across the sky

Daughter Chelsea takes after her Dad, catching the sunset

Found Paradise Point nearby — what a kick (there will be a separate blog post about this)

Brilliant Sky over Barren River Lake

When I look back on the year 2017, it will be with joy and happiness and many many many fond memories.

Choose Happy

So, as 2017 comes to an end, my heart is filled with gratitude and joy and I look forward to a splendid 2018!

End of 2017 — sunrise near Barren River Lake

Loving Nature – Nature as seen through the camera lens




A Canadian Goose lands in the lake

A Canadian Goose lands in the lake (Lexington, KY)

As I have traveled the country and even remained at home, I have fallen in love with nature and the glorious creations of God.  Despite my penchant for visiting quirky and offbeat roadside attractions, it is the wonders of nature that enthrall me on the road and even in my own home town.

A bee doing its job with the lilacs in my back yard

A bee doing its job with the lilacs in my back yard

Back in February I wrote a post about my favorite Animal Photos, but nature is not just about animals and birds and insects.  It is also about sunrises, sunsets, trees, clouds, flowers and more.  Nature gives me a better challenge to learn photography and manage my skills.

Autumn Colors on a horse farm near Lexington, KY

Autumn Colors on a horse farm near Lexington, KY

Living in Lexington, Kentucky offers me the opportunity to enjoy four real seasons…flowers in the spring, fall colors, nice summers and the occasional snows and ice of the winter.  Everyday can provide a wondrous surprise.

Windblown icicles on a lamp in Lexington

Windblown icicles on a lamp in Lexington

Following are a few photos that provide a taste of nature’s glory as I have seen it through the lens of my camera.

MOUNTAINS

The Sawtooth Mountains as viewed from Stanley, Idaho

The Sawtooth Mountains as viewed from Stanley, Idaho

I love the mountains and perhaps one of the most breathtaking views I have ever had was taken in Stanley, Idaho on a beautiful spring afternoon.  The Sawtooth Range and its jagged peaks epitomize the beauty of the Rocky Mountains to me.

Grand Tetons as seen from Driggs, Idaho

Grand Tetons as seen from Driggs, Idaho

Mountains of Glacier National Park as seen from near Babb, Montana

Mountains of Glacier National Park as seen from near Babb, Montana

SWAMPS

Cyprus in Caddo Lake as seen from Uncertain, Texas

Cyprus in Caddo Lake as seen from Uncertain, Texas

Caddo Lake is the only remaining all natural lake in the state of Texas and it is also a swamp.  I had an early morning visit there one February and really enjoyed the almost spooky serenity of the swamp and the moss hanging from the trees.

Caddo Lake in the morning

Caddo Lake in the morning

I learned to play with the camera a bit and with some color adjusting, I was able to make the above view of cyprus in Caddo Lake a bit more colorful.

FLOWERS AND TREES

Texas Bluebonnets mingle with Indian Paintbrushes near Cool, Texas

Texas Bluebonnets mingle with Indian Paintbrushes near Cool, Texas

I love the amazing variety of colorful flowers that can be seen on the road.  Driving from Weatherford, Texas to Mineral Wells, Texas in the spring, one can experience miles of flowers as seen above. A lovely experience!

A Row of Trees on farmland near Tripp, South Dakota

A Row of Trees on farmland near Tripp, South Dakota

I love old trees.  They provide protection, shade and beauty…even when leafless. One of my favorite tree photos comes from Missouri on a lonely back road.

Tree in Fog taken on a back road in Missouri

Tree in Fog taken on a back road in Missouri

Trees are not the only plants out there though.  I have discovered some awesome flower fields that are practically breathtaking, such as the tulip field and sunflower fields shown below.

Sunflowers near Seymour, Wisconsin

Sunflowers near Seymour, Wisconsin

A tulip field on a back road near Woodstock, Ontario

A tulip field on a back road near Woodstock, Ontario

And single flowers look nice as well, especially with bees on them!

Ox-Eye Daisy from McKee, KY

Ox-Eye Daisy from McKee, KY

Bee in Flower taken in my back yard

Bee in Flower taken in my back yard

I am also amazed at the delicate beauty of small flowers such as these below

Buckwheat flowers at Craters of the Moon.  The blossoms are about the size of a US dime

Buckwheat flowers at Craters of the Moon. The blossoms are about the size of a US dime

Dogtooth Trillium was taken in Oxford County, Ontario

Dogtooth Trillium was taken in Oxford County, Ontario

This asterisk was shot on Buckhorn Island, NY

This asterisk was shot on Buckhorn Island, NY

Yellow flower shot at Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho

Yellow flower shot at Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho

The desert offers an amazing variety of plant life as well.  I grew up around the desert never really appreciating the beauty that I now enjoy in later life.  Here are a few desert photos.

This agave, also known as a "Century Plant" was shot near Sedona, Arizona in 1983

This agave, also known as a “Century Plant” was shot near Sedona, Arizona in 1983

I took this cactus blossom at San Xavier del Bac in Tucson

I took this Christmas cactus blossom at San Xavier del Bac in Tucson

This barrel cactus in bloom was also taken in Tucson, AZ

This barrel cactus in bloom was also taken in Tucson, AZ

I really love the yucca against the white sand hills of White Sands National Monument

I really love the yucca against the white sand hills of White Sands National Monument

THE SKIES

Way above the plant life and animal life are the skies…the moon, the sun, the clouds.  These too offer some life enhancing views.

I got this moon shot on March 19 late in the evening.  This was its color.  It was awe inspiring.  Taken in Lexington, KY

I got this moon shot on March 19 late in the evening. This was its color. It was awe inspiring. Taken in Lexington, KY

I also took this on March 19 in the morning.  It is the sun behind the clouds using the blue tinted glass from inside my car.  Taken in Lexingt

I also took this on March 19 in the morning. It is the sun behind the clouds using the blue tinted glass from inside my car. Taken in Lexington, KY

This is a shot of the moon in the morning after the sun came up in Lexington

This is a shot of the moon in the morning after the sun came up in Lexington

The sun rises in Lexington with a wondrous glow

The sun rises in Lexington with a wondrous glow

And the clouds provide more fun viewing on their own.  Here are a few shots taken while I drove around town in Lexington…

Wispy clouds on a winter morning, taken in February 2014

Wispy clouds on a winter morning, taken in February 2014

Cloud furrows?  I saw these clouds one morning while filling up with gas.

Cloud furrows? I saw these clouds one morning while filling up with gas.

I am still amazed at the formation.  I wonder how these clouds could have formed these furrows so evenly.

Orange clouds of sunset over Lexington in January 2014

Orange clouds of sunset over Lexington in January 2014

X Marks the Spot.  Airline chemtrails sometimes criss-cross in the sky.

X Marks the Spot. Airline chemtrails sometimes criss-cross in the sky.

This was one of many X photos in the sky that I have taken, but certainly one of the most defined.

Watercolor skies over Lexington

Watercolor skies over Lexington

I love the “Watercolor Skies” that sunrises and sunsets bring

The moon glows at dusk over Lexington

The moon glows at dusk over Lexington

Morning sun shaded by clouds caught on a morning drive in Lexington

Morning sun shaded by clouds caught on a morning drive in Lexington

THE FOUR SEASONS

The seasons offer a plethora of natural scenes, each with its own kind of beauty….

Winter

Ice encapsulates berry covered branches

Ice encapsulates berry covered branches

Jacobson Lake in Lexington, KY is iced over

Jacobson Lake in Lexington, KY is iced over

Geese head south for the winter

Geese head south for the winter

Icicles decorate a plank fence in horse country

Icicles decorate a plank fence in horse country

A male cardinal perches on ice covered branches

A male cardinal perches on ice covered branches

Spring

As winter leaves, the flowers of spring cover the ground and the trees

Dogwoods and Magnolias in full bloom in Charleston, Missouri

Dogwoods and Magnolias in full bloom in Charleston, Missouri

Redbud in bloom in Kentucky

Redbud in bloom in Kentucky

Trillium only bloom for two weeks.  This is Ontario's Provincial Flower - taken in Sparta, Ontario

Trillium only bloom for two weeks. This is Ontario’s Provincial Flower – taken in Sparta, Ontario

Cherry Blossoms at Lexington Cemetery in Spring

Cherry Blossoms at Lexington Cemetery in Spring

A brightly colored lily found in Woodford County, Kentucky

A brightly colored lily found in Woodford County, Kentucky

Beautiful blossom captured at a park in Seattle, Washington

Beautiful blossom captured at a park in Seattle, Washington

Summer

Summer brings the heat and humidity in Kentucky, but also the amazing shades of green and evening shadows

Blue Heron calls out on a summer day

A Blue Heron calls out on a summer day

Corn Rows can be seen all over the Midwest as summer nears its end

Corn Rows can be seen all over the Midwest as summer nears its end

Birds convene at Jacobson Park in Lexington for the hope of a free bite of bread

Birds convene at Jacobson Park in Lexington for the hope of a free bite of bread

An old tree stands tall on a summer day

An old tree stands tall on a summer day

Afternoon shadows on a late summer day

Afternoon shadows on a late summer day

Geese take flight in Kentucky

Geese take flight in Kentucky

Graceful blue heron in flight over the water

Graceful blue heron in flight over the water

I love Blue Herons!  They are probably my favorite bird…so graceful and majestic

Fall

When fall comes along the beautiful darker oranges, browns and yellows emerge.  Like springtime, Kentucky has beautiful fall colors

So many different shades of orange and red in the fallen leaves

So many different shades of orange and red in the fallen leaves

Horse farm country in the fall

Horse farm country in the fall

Fall Colors in Lexington, KY

Fall Colors in Lexington, KY

What is Autumn without the pumpkins?

What is Autumn without the pumpkins?

More Colors of leaves

More Colors of leaves

A Few More Favorites

Squirrel Prints in the Snow

Squirrel Prints in the Snow

Yellowstone Falls

Yellowstone Falls

Ducks float on the lake at sunrise

Ducks float on the lake at sunrise

A squirrel hangs on a tree

A squirrel hangs on a tree

Nature is awe inspiring.  I feel so blessed to experience it all!!